A nearly full moon hangs low on the horizon, buttery yellow and hung with the shred of cobweb clouds. My footsteps stir the tang of fallen leaves. Woodsy, smoke-scented shouts of distant children drift on newly chill air. I lift the lid on a carved pumpkin and inexpertly light the candle inside. This watershed event is witnessed only by a passing ghoul who is clueless to the fact that this is the first year I’ve been deemed grown-up enough to do this job totally on my own. But the significance isn’t lost on me. I importantly monitor the flickering flame inside the jack-o-lantern and feel suddenly grown-up. I’m ten years old and responsible enough to use matches unsupervised to light a pumpkin I carved by myself with a real knife. In a few minutes I’ll even be going trick-or-treating with friends and not parents for the first time in my life. Euphoria fizzes through my body. I lose some of my elation by racing, skipping and dancing around our front yard, safe in its familiarity but exhilarated by its transformation to shadow, mist and moonlight. I am giddy on the rite-of-passage incense of scorched pumpkin.Twenty-five years later, a nearly full moon hangs low on the horizon on a Halloween evening. I’m in a different house now, in a different state. Being “big” isn’t quite as exciting as it once was. But the smells are the same. Earth, dew, leaf, smoke, flame. The scents of nostalgia. As usual, I am the self-appointed lighter-of-pumpkins. And this year my own children are old enough to be interested in my ritual. They crowd around: two medieval princesses and a knight in shining armor, jockeying for a good view. “Can I do the next one?” one of them asks eagerly. A chorus of, “Me, me, I want to do it!” ensues. I inform them they aren’t big enough yet. “Well, when will we be big enough?” one of my three-year-olds want to know.”Maybe when you’re ten,” I say, remembering. “That’s forever!” Rapunzel wails. I know otherwise, but I don’t argue. Instead, I divert the conversation. “Hey guys! Who’s ready to go trick-or-treating?!” As one, the three of them jump up and down shouting, “I am! I am!” If they were any more enthusiastic, they’d wriggle right out of their skins and shoot up into the sky like tiny bottle rockets. Instead they start racing around the yard after each other, not straying far from the safe pools of shadowy light cast by the lamppost and the jack-o-lanterns. In the thrall of their excitement, I feel suddenly un-grown-up, suddenly ten again. There is that same surge of euphoria, and I lose some of my elation by joining my children in their mad dance around the front yard.Pretty soon we’re shrieking, laughing, howling, cavorting in the mist and the moonlight. “Mommy! Look how big we are! We’re not even scared of the dark!” one of them shouts exultantly. How big indeed.And they, newly big, and I, newly little, dance on in the shadows of our common ground, intoxicated on the smell of scorched pumpkins.
Reprinted by permission of Karen C. Driscoll